Public Health Nutrition

Research Article

Obesity in South Africa: challenges for government and health professionals

H Salome Krugera1 c1, Thandi Puoanea2, Marjanne Senekala3 and M-Theresa van der Merwea4

a1 School of Physiology, Nutrition and Consumer Science, North-West University, Potchefstroom, 2520, South Africa

a2 School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa

a3 Department of Physiological Sciences, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa

a4 Senior Consultant Physician Endocrinologist, Johannesburg General Hospital, Johannesburg, South Africa

Abstract

Objectives To review data on the prevalence, causes and health consequences of obesity in South Africa and propose interventions to prevent and treat obesity and related outcomes.

Methods Data from existing literature were reviewed with an emphasis on changing eating and activity patterns, cultural factors, perceptions and beliefs, urbanisation and globalisation. Results of studies on the health consequences of obesity in South Africans are also reviewed.

Results Shifts in dietary intakes and activity patterns to higher fat intakes and lower physical activity are contributing to a higher prevalence of obesity. Few overweight black women view themselves as overweight, and some associate thinness with HIV/AIDS. Glucose and lipid toxicity, associated with insulin resistance, play roles in the pathogenesis of the co-morbid diseases of obesity. Elevated free fatty acids in the black population predispose obese black patients to type 2 diabetes.

Conclusion and recommendations Obesity prevention and treatment should be based on education, behaviour change, political support, intersectoral collaboration and community participation, local actions, wide inclusion of the population, adequately resourced programmes, infiltration of existing initiatives, evidence-based planning, and proper monitoring and evaluation. Interventions should have the following components: reasonable weight goals, healthful eating, physical activity and behavioural change. Genes and mutations affecting susceptibility to the development of co-morbidities of obesity and vulnerable periods of life for the development of obesity should be prioritised. Prevention should be managed in community services, identification of high-risk patients in primary healthcare services and treatment of co-morbid diseases in hospital services.

(Received May 13 2005)

(Accepted June 02 2005)

Correspondence

c1 *Corresponding author: Email vgehsk@puk.ac.za

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